August 9, 2011

Civil Rights Program Update

We Take Our Role Very Seriously

Stock image.

Last month, a Tennessee man received a life sentence for the racially motivated killing 10 years earlier of a county code enforcement officer who had simply been doing his job.

The investigation of this murder was one of hundreds of civil rights cases the FBI opens each year. It’s a responsibility that—according to Eric Thomas, chief of our Civil Rights Unit at FBI Headquarters—“we take very seriously.”

During fiscal year 2010, said Thomas, we initiated more than 750 civil rights cases that fell into one of four categories—hate crimes, color of law violations, human trafficking, and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violations.

Thomas discussed each category in more detail:

“…Hate crimes, almost a quarter of our 2010 civil rights caseload, are motivated by a particular bias against the victim—like skin color, religion, ethnicity, or country of origin—and includes such things as threats, cross burnings, assaults, and murder. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act added sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disabilities to the list of biases. That law also allows us to prosecute violent hate crimes federally. Before that law, many violent hate crimes were prosecuted at the state level as traditional assaults, murders, etc.…”

“…Color of law violations, more than half of our civil rights investigations last year, involve actions taken by someone acting under the authority of the law—local, state, or federal. Most of these cases are initiated based on allegations of excessive force by law enforcement or correctional officers. However, there are others that involve allegations of sexual assault, theft, or deprivation of property…” 

“…Human trafficking, just over 20 percent of our 2010 civil rights caseload, is a form of human slavery that cannot be tolerated. It’s a growing problem that includes forced physical labor, forced household service, and sex trafficking involving international victims or adult U.S. citizens. (Note: Sex trafficking of U.S. children is handled by the FBI’s Crimes Against Children program.) In early 2013, the FBI’s uniform crime reporting program will begin collecting data from our law enforcement partners on human trafficking offenses… ”

“…FACE Act violations account for a smaller percentage of our workload—just over 2 percent last year. These crimes—committed against those who seek to obtain or provide reproductive health care services—include threatening phone calls and mail, property damage, blockades, assaults, and murders. In recent years, we’ve also seen a rise in bio-terrorism threats, especially hoax anthrax letters…”

Intelligence plays an important role in our civil rights program. “For example,” explained Thomas, “we’ve established risk indicators for each of our subprogram areas to help field office agents and analysts better identify, assess, and ultimately address the civil rights threats within their regions.”   

Collaboration plays a vital role as well, said Thomas. “Many of our civil rights investigations—in particular, hate crimes and human trafficking—are enhanced by joint efforts with law enforcement partners. Many field offices participate in task forces and/or working groups focused on major civil rights threats.” He also said the Bureau works closely with community and civic organizations at the local and national levels.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of or a witness to a civil rights crime, contact your local police department or FBI office.